“Heroism is an obedience to a secret impulse of an individual’s character. hero emerson

Now to no other man can its wisdom appear as it does to him, for every man must be supposed to see a little farther on his own proper path than anyone else.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

<ESSAY VIII Heroism>



This is about my thoughts on heroes but let me start by saying I tend to believe little things can make a big difference. And in a never ending struggle with everyday common Life you should seek the small victories because in the end … a big Life is made up of some pretty important small victories.

That said. Some things are bigger than others. And some big things cannot be done by accumulating a bunch of little things … even if they are really good little things.

And some big things should never be diminished. Like heroism & heroes.

Yup. On a day in the United States where we recognize the memories of heroes, the veterans of the military, I want to talk about heroes.

Now. Before I say what I want to say … I know we need heroes. Not just for practical reasons <we need to remember that they actually did something heroic that made a difference> but from a character compass standpoint.

They become a North Star for attitude, actions and character.

Universally we all have a desire to hear the stories and to identify with people with strong character and learn through the circumstances and choices that make them heroic to us.

And. I believe it is a Life truth that there can be no great heroes without great followers which means we, the ordinary people, are the great followers always seeking the great heroes.

And that is what I want to discuss.

Great heroes and, uhm, how I struggle with the ‘local media spotlighted’ heroes. I struggle because I believe that in order to deserve a real hero we the people, the common everyday people who fight the good fight day in and day out, must be able to rise above a sense of self and the belief that we are ‘heroic’ in our everyday lives and stop thinking the overall belief that heroism resides in the capacity of the majority.

hero time isFor true heroism is not in the purview of the common person. True heroism is not for you & I <okay, maybe some of us, but not me>.

Whoa ! <you say> Let me explain my thinking.

We have a desperate <and not a bad objective with poor intentions> desire for heroes and heroism. And in doing so we have a tendency to celebrate the glimpses of heroism found in the ordinary person in possibly an extraordinary moment. Maybe by doing so we diminish heroism. To me, despite how we want to treat these following things as exceptional or examples for people to follow, things like duty, honor, courage & integrity are every day obligations for everyday people.

Not exceptional, but expected.

People should be going about doing what they do with a sense of duty simply doing what we expect people should do. I believe Hero should be an esteemed status. Commending only those who ‘serve beyond the call of duty’ without expectation of reward’.


Just as there is only one North Star, the great heroes remain the brightest of the bright stars. When we create heroes from those who simply portray courage or a strong sense of duty <or doing what is right> it seems to lessen rather than increase the image and reality of true heroism.

Great heroes are few in number.

Great heroes are not doing little things that matter.

I fully understand this is a contrary point of view.hero not common

We like everyday heroes. Or maybe we just like the idea of them & the fact an ordinary person can be one.

News always raises up the unheralded local person, the unknown personality, the common person doing something seemingly heroic in everyday Life and shares ‘the story.’

We like it. To be sure, these people certainly deserve to be commended. Commended as heroes? Well. You could argue that to claim most people are heroes, and do heroic things, suggests that there really are not any heroes.

Heroes are not common. Heroic acts cannot be common.


Here is the good news <for me> so that before everyone starts shoving random objects up my wazoo … Ralph Waldo Emerson agrees with me <or I guess I agreed with him?>.


Ralph Waldo Emerson

The characteristic of heroism is its persistency.  All men have wandering impulses, fits, and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be the common, nor the common the heroic.”


Ralph <or Waldo to his closest drinking buddies> wrote an essay on Heroism. A brilliant piece <albeit he uses a boatload of words I do not understand and strings them together in some very odd sentences>  where he solidly puts forth a belief that heroes are special and few.

Let me share some of his thoughts <I have bolded the really special parts>:


Our culture, therefore, must not omit the arming of the man. Let him hear in season, that he is born into the state of war, and that the commonwealth and his own well-being require that he should not go dancing in the weeds of peace, but warned, self-collected, and neither defying nor dreading the thunder, let him take both reputation and life in his hand, and, with perfect urbanity, dare the gibbet and the mob by the absolute truth of his speech, and the rectitude of his behaviour.  Towards all this external evil, the man within the breast assumes a warlike attitude, and affirms his ability to cope single-handed with the infinite army of enemies. To this military attitude of the soul we give the name of Heroism.

Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right; and although a different breeding, different religion, and greater intellectual activity would have modified or even reversed the particular action, yet for the hero that thing he does is the highest deed, and is not open to the censure of philosophers or divines. It is the avowal of the unschooled man, that he finds a quality in him that is negligent of expense, of health, of life, of danger, of hatred, of reproach, and knows that his will is higher and more excellent than all actual and all possible antagonists. It is the state of the soul at war, and its ultimate objects are the last defiance of falsehood and wrong, and the power to bear all that can be inflicted by evil agents. It speaks the truth, and it is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, scornful of petty calculations, and scornful of being scorned. It persists; it is of an undaunted boldness, and of a fortitude not to be wearied out. Its jest is the littleness of common life. That false prudence which dotes on health and wealth is the butt and merriment of heroism.

Heroism, like Plotinus, is almost ashamed of its body.

… which common duty can very well attain, to suffer and to dare with solemnity. But these rare souls set opinion, success, and life, at so cheap a rate, that they will not soothe their enemies by petitions, or the show of sorrow, but wear their own habitual greatness.


heroes memorial-dayHeroes are immortal in their heroism.

Heroes have no death.

And they are bigger than us normal everyday folk.

Their purity has never been ‘shrunk to the common size of man.’ We should put heroism on a pedestal just as we should exalt the true heroes.

Emerson reminds us heroism cannot be common … because it is the one thing that is deemed worthy of immortality “… made death impossible, and affirms itself no mortal, but a native of the deeps of absolute and inextinguishable being.”

Ralph was a smart guy and said some really smart things.

We cheapen heroism a little bit by bestowing that honor on too many for too little. And by ‘too little’ I am suggesting we have set the bar too low. We should expect honor, duty, integrity and, yes, courage of convictions and courage to do what is right from everyone.

Those things are the standard for citizenship.

Heroes carry that standard to the forefront and beyond. They are the ones who speak the truth when truth is most difficult to speak, have the fortitude to not be wearied out by littleness of common life and are the rare souls who but wear their own habitual greatness.


In honor of those who gave the full measure of devotion: Memorial Day

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Written by Bruce